UN Decries Global Emission Woes

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Kenyan environmentalist and Nobel Peace laureate Wangari Maathai: “We know the data, we know the signs of climate change. We can tell people of the drought, floods and so on. But the big question is, what do we do about it? At least we can mitigate by planting trees…�

(Maathai----we can't just stand and watch the earth destroyed).

The consensus among climate change experts participating at the just concluded Nairobi summit is that developing countries cannot solve the climate problems without support from the industrialized nations.

Even though some rich nations announced huge packages to support climate change adaptation programs, climate experts expressed concern over the unwillingness of the United States and a few other powerful countries to ratify the Kyoto Protocol that sets limits on greenhouse gas emissions.

The Nairobi gathering was the 12th United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC ) conference of the 189 countries that signed the 1992 convention.

A total of 165 countries have ratified the Kyoto Protocol, which demands that industrialized nations reduce their emission of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane.

Not much headway was made to convince several industrialized countries that include the US and Australia. These countries and other nations still argue that doing so would mean implementing measures that could harm their economies and the welfare of their people.

At the summit, UN secretary general Kofi Annan added his voice to the growing calls urging developed countries to step up efforts to reduce harmful gas emissions that were causing global warming. "The impact of climate change will fall disproportionately on the world's poorest countries, many of them in Africa,� Annan said. “Poor people already live on the frontlines of pollution, disaster and the degradation of resources and land. Their livelihoods and sustenance depend directly on agriculture, forestry and fisheries," he told the delegates.

"We must make it a higher priority to integrate the risks posed by climate change into strategies and programs aimed at achieving the Millennium Development Goals," Annan said. Critical areas of concern were also identified at the Nairobi summit.  Experts said the effects of climate change would damage the African savannah, tropical forests, coral reefs, freshwater habitats and wetland ecosystems, river systems and rob the poor their source of livelihood.

Other pressing challenges that were raised include the lack of resources to help poor nations cope with climate change, addressing the needs of marginalized communities like the pastoralists in north-eastern Kenya, developing alternative and sustainable sources of energy like solar for use in Africa where many people depend heavily on firewood for power and the drawing up of protocols that address the long term effects of climate change.

Changing weather patterns have resulted in droughts and floods and forced some marginalized communities to abandon their traditional ways of living, on cattle herding, and migrate to towns where many now depended on food aid for survival.
The UN estimates that the number of people killed and affected by climate-related disasters in Africa between 1993 and 2002 stands at more than 136 million.

Concern was also raised over the increasing epidemics of malaria waterborne diseases in Africa, heat wave related deaths in Europe and the high incidence of cerebral-cardiovascular conditions in China, which experts say, were being caused by climatic changes. "As we impact on the climate, it is unreasonable to think that this will not impact on health," said Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum, a World Health Organization scientist.

"Industrialized nations, the principal emitters of the greenhouse gasses blamed for contributing to climate change, were loading health risks on developing countries," he said. Global warming occurs when the climate is disrupted at some critical point as trapped heat accumulates within the atmosphere. This is often referred to as the greenhouse effect.
Carbon dioxide is the worst pollutant and increases in the atmosphere mainly through industrial emissions as well as emissions from vehicles.

Scientists say climate change will result in melting polar glaciers, rising oceans, ocean driven hurricanes, typhoons and cyclones, which can be devastating to human population. Experts warned that lives will be jeopardized and billions of dollars wasted if governments in developed nations fail to commit more money to helping poor countries adapt to climatic changes.

Contributions to the two funds specifically designed to help poor countries stood at just US$43 million in 2005-2006, a tenth of the amount pledged while experts estimate that the overall annual cost to adapt to projected climate change stand at between US$10 billion and US$40 billion a year.

Concern was expressed that rich nations subsidies fossil fuel industries to the tune of US$73 billion a year. Participants said rich countries should renew their pledge and play their part in trying to halt climate change and to help bring about a global solution that is fair and rooted in human equality.

Environmental activists turned the heat on rich countries at the summit and Britain announced that it would invest 24 million pounds in climate change programs in Africa. Intense lobbying, goal setting, reviewing progress to identify achievements as well as gaps and obstacles, reviewing and expanding commitments to help poor countries and adopt urgent actions to mitigate climate change and adapt to it, will all make the Nairobi conference a memorable platform that broadened and increased Africa's voice in shaping the work of the UN.

And as the curtains to the summit came down, well-known Kenyan environmentalist and Nobel Peace laureate Wangari Maathai said, “We know the data, we know the signs of climate change. We can tell people of the drought, floods and so on. But the big question is, what do we do about it? At least we can mitigate by planting trees. Anybody can dig a hole, put a tree in the hole and water it to make sure that it survives.�

Tsiko is The Black Star News' Southern Africa correspondent, based in Harare.

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